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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust
(highlights)

Act I: Vin ou bière; Avant de quitter ces lieux; Le veau d’or; Ne permettrez-vous pas
Act II: Quel trouble inconnu ... Salut! demeure chaste et pure; Les grands seigneurs ... Un bouquet ... Ah! Je ris de me voir; Il se fait tard
Act III: Il ne revient pas; Ecoutez! Déposons les armes!; Gloire immortelle; Qu’attendez-vous encore?; Vous qui faites l’endormie; Ecoute-moi bien, Marguerite!
Act IV: Dans les bruyères; Arrête!; Minuit! Minuit!; Que ton ivresse; Alerte! Alerte!
Appendix: Ballet music: I: Allegretto; VI: Allegretto; VII: Allegro vivo
Jerry Hadley (tenor) – Faust; Cecilia Gasdia (soprano) – Marguerite; Samuel Ramey (bass) – Méphistophéles; Alexandru Agache (baritone) – Valentin; Susanne Mentzer (mezzo-soprano) – Siébel; Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano) – Marthe; Philippe Fourcade (bass) – Wagner.
Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera/Carlo Rizzi
Recorded in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, in July 1993
WARNER APEX 2564 61515-2 [75:41]

 

 

Gounod’s Faust became enormously popular from the beginning. It was played regularly in all the big opera houses, at least until the early 20th century, so much so that the Met was once called the “Faust-spielhaus”. Later it fell more or less out of fashion, being regarded as too sweet and sentimental. However, during the last decades it has again been in vogue. Since the advent of the LP around a dozen “official” complete recordings have been issued, most of them quite successful. For a general recommendation EMI’s stereo remake from 1959 (Cluytens conducting and Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda and Boris Christoff singing the major roles and available at mid-price in the Great Recordings of the Century series) still leads the race. There are however several other sets worth consideration and this twelve-year-old WNO recording has a lot to offer. It comes at budget-price, is well-filled, the chorus sings well, the WNO Orchestra is well up to the mark and the sound is good with a wide dynamic range, maybe too wide. As with many modern recordings, if you want to hear the pianissimo passages you need to turn up the volume to a level that makes the fortissimos unsociable. The choice of items from an opera that is filled with gems is always a delicate matter and is here sensibly done, even though I would have liked Marguerite’s Thule ballad to be included. Someone stumbling over this disc in their record store and wanting a cheap collection of highlights from Faust, maybe as a complement to a complete recording, will certainly not be disappointed with the singing, which for most listeners will be of prime interest.

Two star mezzos are to be heard briefly in the minor parts of Siebel and Marthe, Susanne Mentzer and Brigitte Fassbaender. The little we hear from them is well-sung with Fassbaender’s characteristic timbre being immediately recognizable. Valentin is sung by Alexandru Agache, who has a fine voice, evenly produced. He has a silvery legato and he sings the first act aria, Avant de quitter ces lieux with ravishing beauty. In his death scene he is rather restrained and his curse of Marguerite is sung pianissimo, which seems realistic for a dying person. Samuel Ramey is of course magnificent as Mephistopheles. It is a pleasure to listen to his strong, steady, incisive singing, unsurpassed I would say during the last thirty years or so, although others may have delved deeper into the character. Le veau d’or is a tour de force and he is suitably diabolic in Vous qui faites l’endormie. The singing of the title role is crucial to any performance of this opera and Jerry Hadley is an unusually lyrical Faust. He sings with an elegance, lightness and beauty of tone that, among modern interpreters of the part, only Gedda could match. Hadley has always, to my ears, been the most “natural” of singers and his French is good. His cavatina, Salut! demeure is inward and restrained, some might even call it bloodless, and he sings the high C pianissimo in falsetto, which of course diminishes the impact. It is however in line with his interpretation and the whole aria is so beautifully and musically done.

Cecilia Gasdia, too little heard on records, turns in a fine warm-toned Marguerite who is careful with nuances. The Jewel-song is one of the highlights on this disc and she matches Hadley well in the love duet, where Hadley also shows some temperament.

Carlo Rizzi’s tempos tend to be on the slow side and the whole performance feels a bit under-powered. The drinking chorus Vin ou biêre in act I gives a feeling that the glasses contain nothing stronger than lemonade, but Gloire immortelle is enthusiastically done. The three dances from the ballet music, which form an appendix, are well played and the last of them goes some way to make amend for the slightly tepid feeling.

As usual with these Warner Apex highlights discs there are no texts in the booklet, only a short resumé of the plot but without any cues to what is actually included on the disc. There is also a discrepancy in so far as the resumé describes the five-act version, while the track list has four acts.

While not perhaps being a first recommendation, this is still worth anyone’s money for some distinguished singing. Hadley’s Cavatina, idiosyncratic though it may be, demands to be heard.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 



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